I think that word describes many Christians who live in the United States in 2016. Some are frustrated by a government that promotes values at odds with historic, orthodox Christianity. Others are frustrated by a culture that is increasingly disinterested in organized religion of any kind. Others are frustrated by a growing inability for their church to connect with unbelievers in a meaningful way. Others are frustrated because when they tell people about Jesus but never see anyone truly become a follower of Jesus. Still others are frustrated by droves of young people who are raised in church but walk away from Jesus after high school.
I can’t fix all of this frustration. However, I think an understanding of worldview can help believers make sense of some of these frustrations. Further, I think the concept of worldview can help believers engage an unbelieving world with the truth of the gospel. When it comes to worldview, no book has helped me more than James Sire’s book The Universe Nextdoor: A Basic Worldview Catalog.
Sire begins by offering the following definition of worldview: “A worldview is a commitment, a fundamental orientation of the heart, that can be expressed as a story or in a set of presuppositions (assumptions which may be true, partially true or entirely false) that we hold (consciously or subconsciously, consistently or inconsistently) about the basic constitution of reality, and that provides the foundation on which we live and move and have our being.”
In a country like ours (one that was “Christianized” and is now “post-Christian”) it is no longer helpful to think in terms of religious affiliation. It is no longer helpful to engage people on the level of belief. Instead, we need to think in terms of worldview and we need to engage people on a more foundational level, realizing that everyone has a worldview whether they realize it or not. Many people in the United States identify as “Christian,” but their worldview is anything but. Many people in the United States claim to believe in Jesus, but their worldview is miles away from Christian theism.
Sire explains that every worldview offers an answer to the following eight questions:
- What is prime reality – the really real?
- What is the nature of external reality, that is, the world around us?
- What is a human being?
- What happens to a person at death?
- Why is it possible to know anything at all?
- How do we know what is right and wrong?
- What is the meaning of human history?
- What personal, life orienting core commitments are consistent with this worldview?
It really doesn’t matter if a person identifies as a “Christian.” It really doesn’t matter if a person claims to believe in Jesus. What matters is the way he or she answers these eight questions. A person’s answer to these questions reveals not only their worldview, but also their deeply help religious beliefs. Often challenging is the fact that most people don’t think in terms of worldview. Many are unaware of their own worldview, and many hold to illogical, inconsistent world views. In responding to this challenge, Sire offers the following four criteria as a worldview “test.”
- It must be intellectually coherent.
- It must comprehend the data of reality.
- It must explain what it claims to explain.
- It must be subjectively satisfactory.
In The Universe Next Door, Sire examines Christian theism, deism, naturalism, nihilism, existentialism, eastern pantheistic monism, the new age, postmodernism, and Islamic theism. These discussions are helpful. The framework Sire provides is more helpful and more foundational. A broad understanding of “worldview” allows you to navigate frustrating situations with wisdom and engage others with the gospel.
When “Christian” politicians advocate un-Christian policies, realize that despite their stated beliefs they may be operating from a non-Christian worldview. When our culture seems uninterested in Jesus and bored with church, realize it may be that we have failed to offer a comprehensive, consistent, coherent, compelling worldview even as we talked about Jesus. When you set out to tell someone about Jesus, realize the importance of agreeing on basic worldview issues before asking someone to follow Jesus. When you set out to teach the next generation the good news, realize the importance of passing down a robust Christian worldview, not just a simplistic idea of Jesus.
Originally published September 26, 2016 on landoncoleman.com.